What Matters?

David, an adult amateur players, asks:

Why do refs allow players to gain 20 yards with a throw in but insist on free kicks being taken from the place of the foul? Surely more of an advantage is gained with throw ins not taken from where the ball went out of play because the ball can’t be thrown as far as it can be kicked?


There are several ways to respond to your questions:

  1. Generally referees do not routinely allow a variance of 20 yards on any regular basis.  Some referees do it for shorter distances, some referees do it occasionally, some referees are comfortable with leeways of, say, 5 yards or so, and some referees allow no leeway at all (ever).
  2. The giving of more than the allowed variance of about a yard is more common the farther away the throw-in is from the goal.  The closer the goal being attacked, the more likely the referee will be stricter in enforcing the one yard maximum.
  3. As for restarts on the field (free kicks), we would say the two above points pertaining to throw-ins are often applied to free kicks and for roughly the same reason – some variance beyond what the Law demands, depending on the location, the conduct (flow) of the game, the acceptance of the players, etc. rarely matters.
  4. One of the most fundamental underlying principles of the Laws of the Game (commonly and readily accepted) is summed up in some language which used to be directly in the Laws of the Game but was dropped a long time ago because (as the Brits would say) the statement is or should be so fundamentally understood as to be not worth the effort to keep it in written form – “The Laws of the Game are intended to provide that games should be played with as little interference as possible, and in this view it is the duty of referees to penalize only deliberate breaches of the Law.  Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and loss of temper on the part of the players and spoils the pleasure of spectators.” (From International Board Decision 8, under Law 5, commonly thought of as one of the most fundamental principles of “the Spirit of the Game” – my emphasis)
  5. In short, if it doesn’t matter, keep your whistle down.

What’s Under YOUR Uniform? (with apologies to a popular credit card commercial)

A high school/college referee asks:

I have been seeing a lot of players in other sports lately wearing arm sleeves. I would judge this to be similar to wearing tights (compression shorts) which should match the main color or hem of the shirt and if there are more than one, the team should have the same color. Would I be correct in my thinking or are those pieces of cloth prohibited? Does the uniform / sock / undergarment language also address Captains bands or other arm (compression) sleeves?


First of all, until we begin seeing in soccer what you are seeing with respect to “other sports,” there is little basis on which to offer any sort of definitive answer.  All we can do at this point is speculate within the framework of what we already know regarding the Laws of the Game.

Some things are easy.  For example, don’t worry about captain’s armbands.  They are permitted and don’t come under any provision of the Law beyond the restriction that they must not present a danger to anyone (though we would be hard-pressed to contemplate an armband that might even faintly be considered unsafe!).  This, of course, assumes that it is not being worn over the sock.  Like anything, however, which is not part of the required uniform described in Law 4, it should be inspected — or at least given a brief glance.  Law 4 also includes “arm protectors” as part of the category it calls “protective equipment” and states that they must be “non-dangerous” (which is a wordier version of “safe”) if made of “lightweight padded material.”  Conceivably, if something worn on the arm did not specifically extend below the sleeve of the jersey but, rather, started from below the jersey sleeve, it could be considered as falling in this category.

The difficult question regards something worn on the arm that does begin from some point under the jersey sleeve and then extends downward on the arm.  This would give every appearance of being an “undershirt” which would then become subject to the rule about its color being the same as the main color of the shirt sleeve.  The sticking point here is that, without having the player undress to some point, there would be no way of telling whether this type of armwear was part of a true undergarment or just a sleeve extension.

Our recommendation, should you find yourself facing such a situation, is to treat armwear that starts under the sleeve and then continues on the arm as an undershirt and apply the Law appropriately.  If it begins below the sleeve, treat it as an arm protector and limit your concerns to whether it is safe.  Finally, you always have the option if things start to look sticky to point out to the player that, if the armsleeve is not a true undershirt but is otherwise not in conformity with the undershirt rules, simply pull it down far enough to show skin, thus demonstrating that it falls under a different rule.  Keep in mind the core objective of the undershirt rule is to standardize jerseys … and anything which appears to be an extension of the jersey.  Also remember that the wearing of anything other than compulsory equipment may be a topic covered by a local rule of competition.  The final thing to remember (so much to keep in mind!!) is that many technical violations may be considered trifling: choose to insist on those things that really matter (but include details of situations like this in your game report).…


In a B14 match attacking Red player A takes a shot from 25 yards away that strikes the crossbar, and ricochets to the ground, and bounces up about waist high, about 3-5 feet in front of the Blue goalkeeper. Attacking Red player B is only 2 feet from the ball, and he swings his leg sideways to kick the ball back into the net just as the Blue goalkeeper swoops in to scoop up the ball. The blue goalkeeper never gets his hands on the ball but just as he is about to, Red player B’s foot strikes the ball and Blue keepers face simultaneously. The ball goes into the net. The keeper goes down but recovers and finishes the match. All parties…. the center referee, his assistant referee, the coach of both the Red and Blue teams agrees there was no intent by Red B to strike or injure the keeper.
However, the coach of Blue team argues that since player safety is a referee’s paramount concern that the center ref should have either: (1) blown his whistle to stop the play before the injury; or (2) stopped play, disallowed the goal and awarded an indirect free kick to Blue for dangerous play. The coach of the Blue team argues that the interpretation of “in the possession of the goalkeeper” be expanded to include those situations where in the opinion of the center referee, the keeper is in imminent possession of the ball, and due to the proximity of an attacking player, stop play with his whistle to protect the keeper, and restart the plate as if the attacking player had interfered with the keeper or fouled him. What is the proper decision for the center referee in these circumstances and if the coach is correct, what is the authority in the LOTG or ATR for his position?

USSF answer (November 5, 2010):
Let’s break this down into smaller parts to help make the entire problem understandable for referees, coaches, and players alike.

Yes, safety is the referee’s first concern under the Laws. However, referees — and coaches and players — need to remember that the position of goalkeeper is inherently dangerous and the goalkeeper is allowed a bit more leeway than other players in placing him- or herself in danger and thus affecting how the opponents can act. Everything he or she does when attempting to clear a ball or take it away from an onrushing attacker is dangerous. Why? Because it is the ‘keeper’s job to stop the ball from going into the goal, no matter at what height above the ground it may travel. Unless the ‘keeper did something that was careless or violent or reckless, and you said that he did not, then there was no foul, but simply bad luck. This is one of the lessons referees, players, and coaches need to learn.

Would we allow this for the opposing attackers? Not if it places the goalkeeper in danger that he cannot avoid. Is this inconsistent? Yes, but it is the way the game has always been played.

The goalkeeper is considered to be in control (= possession) of the ball when the ball is held with both hands, held by trapping the ball between one hand and any surface (e. g., the ground, a goalpost, the goalkeeper’s body), or holding the ball in the outstretched open palm. And the “hand” in this case can consist of as few as one finger of the ‘keeper’s hand.

The Laws do not grant the referee the power to extend the definition of goalkeeper possession, nor to legislate new meanings on the field of play.

The goalkeeper has no more rights than any other player, with the exceptions of protective equipment and not being challenged when attempting to release the ball into general play. When not in possession of the ball, the goalkeeper may be fairly challenged. And the fairness is determined by the referee, not the coach and not the player.

There is no rule that “protects the goalie” from contact initiated by other players — as long as that contact is not against the requirements for a fair charge and does not happen when the goalkeeper is attempting to release the ball for others to play — in other words, to punt or throw the ball out of the penalty area.

Any time a player (either a field player or a goalkeeper) raises his/her leg above knee level there is the likelihood that someone will be hurt. As age and skill levels go down, the referee must interpret both “possession” and “safe challenge” more conservatively. Something an adult player might be allowed to do is not always the same as something a youth player (U14 for example) would be allowed to do.…


is it possible to call dangerous play instead of direct kick foul when physical contact is made? ie: ball is rolling toward and near goal line, defender is 1 step ahead of attacker, both runner toward goal line, defender reaches around the ball to clear it back toward halfway line and kicks attacker in the process. not kicks toward attacker but makes physical contact, kicking the attacker on his follow through. my ar’s argued the defender didn’t see attacker gaining ground and didn’t intend to kick him, dangerous play. i believe as soon as physical contact is made, dangerous play is no longer an issue, it must be straight forward direct free kick for “kicking an opponent”. is it possible to call “dangerous play”?

USSF answer (April 17, 2010):
No, it is not possible to call playing dangerously when there is contact. In this situation we see no foul at all, simply incidental contact. No kicking or attempting to kick, no playing dangerously. It is simply a trifling contact that is not a foul, unless the referee believes in his or her heart of hearts that the act was premeditated — and your description of the situation does not suggest that.

Referees should not always be looking to call fouls in 50-50 or trifling situations. Furthermore, this is NOT what the “dangerous play” offense is all about! A referee CANNOT convert a player’s act to dangerous play simply because there was no intent.…


The April 13 question about a possible foul committed by the keeper after failing to block a shot revealed a common confusion among inexperienced referees distinguishing dangerous play, careless play, reckless play, and serious foul play. Maybe you can help clarify this matter.

As I understand the rules, dangerous play is a separate offense defined in the laws. This foul is called if a player plays in a dangerous way that denies an opponent a fair chance to participate in play, but NO CONTACT has occurred. Examples could be high kicks,low headers, playing on the ground, or playing with the cleats up provided these actions do not make contact but cause an opponent to refrain from a legal challenge for the ball because of perceived danger to themselves or the opponent. Dangerous play is always an IFK because no contact is involved. What is dangerous for young inexperienced players may not be dangerous of advanced players – hence “high kicks” or “playing on the ground” is not automatically dangerous play.

Careless, reckless, and serious fouls refer to the degree a contact foul is committed. Careless contact fouls (a routine foul) are always a DFK (or PK). If the foul was also reckless (or tactical/deliberate) then a yellow card is required. If the foul was also serious (endangered opponent) then a red card is required.

The same contact distinction separates impeding (no contact – IFK) from holding (contact – DFK).

Am I understanding this correctly? Thanks.

USSF answer (April 15, 2010):
Far be it from us to pass up an opportunity for education and clarification. Thank you for asking.

Your concept of “dangerous play” is close, but not totally accurate. You will find the following in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” available for download from http://www.ussoccer.com:

Playing “in a dangerous manner” can be called only if the act, in the opinion of the referee, meets three criteria: the action must be dangerous to someone (including the player committing the action), it was committed with an opponent close by, and the dangerous nature of the action caused this opponent to cease active play for the ball or to be otherwise disadvantaged by the attempt not to participate in the dangerous play. Merely committing a dangerous act is not, by itself, an offense (e.g., kicking high enough that the cleats show or attempting to play the ball while on the ground). Committing a dangerous act while an opponent is nearby is not, by itself, an offense. The act becomes an offense only when an opponent is adversely and unfairly affected, usually by the opponent ceasing to challenge for the ball in order to avoid receiving or causing injury as a direct result of the player’s act. Playing in a manner considered to be dangerous when only a teammate is nearby is not a foul. Remember that fouls may be committed only against opponents or the opposing team.

In judging a dangerous play offense, the referee must take into account the experience and skill level of the players. Opponents who are experienced and skilled may be more likely to accept the danger and play through. Younger players have neither the experience nor skill to judge the danger adequately and, in such cases, the referee should intervene on behalf of their safety. For example, playing with cleats up in a threatening or intimidating manner is more likely to be judged a dangerous play offense in youth matches, without regard to the reaction of opponents.

You have the difference between impeding and holding (or pushing) down just right. And just so others will know the distinction between careless, reckless, and involving the use of excessive force, here is the appropriate information from the Advice on CRIEF:

“Careless” indicates that the player has not exercised due caution in making a play.

“Reckless” means that the player has made unnatural movements designed to intimidate an opponent or to gain an unfair advantage.

“Involving excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball and has placed the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm.

If the foul was careless, simply a miscalculation of strength or a stretch of judgment by the player who committed it, then it is a normal foul, requiring only a direct free kick (and possibly a stern talking-to). If the foul was reckless, clearly outside the norm for fair play, then the referee must award the direct free kick and also caution the player for unsporting behavior, showing the yellow card. If the foul involved the use of excessive force, totally beyond the bounds of normal play, then the referee must send off the player for serious foul play or violent conduct, show the red card, and award the direct free kick to the opposing team.

And it is worth repeating — yet again — that the occurrence of contact between players does not necessarily mean that a foul was committed. Contact occurs and it is accepted and welcomed, as long as it is accomplished legally — and that includes most accidental contact.…


Your site is a wonderful resource. Thanks for helping all of us become better referees.

I am the center ref at a U-18 USSF game. An attacker on a breakaway enters the box. The keeper hesitates, unsure whether to charge out or wait for the shot. Keeper decides to come out. Attacker gets the shot off and it slides under the keeper’s lunging body but goes wide of the goal. However, the keeper’s frantic attempt to stop or deflect the ball results in contact with the attacker, who goes down. I am in a very good position to see all this, and I note that at the time of contact the ball hasn’t crossed the goal-line. The keeper’s action, I decide is neither careless nor reckless vis-a-vis the attacker, but is dangerous (actually, to the keeper more than to the attacker). So I blow the whistle, show the keeper a yellow card and indicate an IFK within the box, where the foul was committed. The attacking team fails to score. At half-time, I am told by one of A/Rs, an experienced ref who I respect, that a PK should have been called because “you can’t have a contact IFK against the defence in the penalty box”. I maintain that, since the attacker got the shot off, and missed, awarding a PK against the keeper would provide the attacking team with two bites of the cherry(and might require sending-off the keeper as well) while, given the fact that the keeper was trying to get the ball rather than the player, albeit by playing in a dangerous manner, an IFK was appropriate. Was I wrong?

USSF answer (April 13, 2010):
We would suggest that you are operating under a slightly “iffy” premise, that the goalkeeper’s action constituted playing dangerously. All referees need to remember that the job of the goalkeeper is inherently dangerous; everything he or she does when attempting to clear a ball or take it away from an onrushing attacker is dangerous. Unless the ‘keeper did something that was careless or violent or reckless, and you said that he did not, then there was no foul, but simply bad luck. This is one of the lessons we need to learn. There was no foul in this situation, at least not as you describe it. Not a penalty kick, not an indirect free kick.

No need to discuss the advice you were given by others in this case; just disregard it.…


I’d like some guidance on what fouls or infractions should be considered trifling.

For example, in your July 9, 2009 question on the AR signal for a PK, you said how the AR was to determine and signal “if the goalkeeper has moved illegally AND IT MADE A DIFFERENCE.” (your ALL-CAPS). Does “MADE A DIFFERENCE” mean, for example, that if the keeper leaves the line early, but the shot misses the goal (no keeper save), that leaving early made no difference in helping a save, so no foul? Or did it mean that if a goal was scored anyway, leaving early “MADE no DIFFERENCE”, so no need to signal?

It seems that the first option makes sense as being trifling leaving early had no impact upon play since the shot missed the goal.

But the LOTG and ATR seem clear that it does not matter if the shot is saved or misses when calling this.

Similarly with trifling – players that enter the penalty area on a PK slightly before the kick seem to have “no significant impact upon play” [ATR 5.5] in almost all cases. Yet much of Law 14 addresses this infraction. If the ball enters the goal on a PK, how could an attacker’s pre-kick entry into the penalty area not be considered trifling?

There seems to be consensus that things like 6-second rule violations, and keeper handling slightly outside the area when punting are trifling offenses. Right? But why are foul throw-ins not almost always trifling?

Thanks for providing “the answer” to so many important questions.

USSF answer (November 11, 2009):
1. Goalkeeper leaving the line early:
The original meaning was that the goalkeeper’s leaving the line early may be disregarded if the ball enters the goal. If the kick missed, then it COULD have made a difference and the kicking team gets another “shot” at it. The final decision here is made by the referee on the game, not those of us who are watching (and adding up the “mistakes” by the referee).

2. Trifling infringements
For those who have not yet downloaded this year’s edition of the Advice to Referees, here is the text referred to in the question, Advice 5.5:

“The Laws of the Game are intended to provide that games should be played with as little interference as possible, and in this view it is the duty of referees to penalize only deliberate breaches of the Law. Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and loss of temper on the part of the players and spoils the pleasure of spectators.”

This former International F.A. Board Decision (previously included in Law 5 as Decision 8) was removed from the Law only because it was felt to be an unnecessary reminder of the referee’s fundamental duty to penalize only those violations that matter. The spirit, if not the words, of this Decision remains at the heart of the Law. It is applicable to all possible violations of any of the Laws of the Game.

A trifling infraction is one which, though still an offense, has no significant impact upon play. A doubtful offense is one which neither the referee nor the other officials can attest to. Under no circumstances should the advantage clause be invoked for such “offenses.” The referee’s decision as to whether a player’s action is trifling or not is affected considerably by the skill level of the players. However, the referee should remember to consider trifling offenses in determining persistent infringement of the Laws. Further, the referee may wish to talk to or warn a player regarding infringements which, though considered trifling, may nonetheless lead to frustration and retaliation if they continue.

With regard to entering the penalty area early, we can say that if it had no effect on play, then it need not be punished, as this would disrupt the flow of the game unnecessarily.

However, if, in the opinion of the referee, a kicking team player’s early entry into the penalty area had some effect on the play, it would not be trifling and would have to be punished in accordance with the Law.

Infringement of the six-second rule is sometimes misinterpreted. The count starts when the goalkeeper is preparing to release the ball, not when he or she actually gains possession. Why? Because very often the goalkeeper has to disentangle him-/herself from other players or move around fallen players, and it would be unfair to begin the count in such a case.

The goalkeeper’s handling of the ball “outside” the penalty area by crossing the line when punting the ball is clearly trifling, particularly if it occurs only once in a game and is only VERY slightly beyond the line. The referee should first have a word with the goalkeeper, warning him or her to watch the line in the future or risk consequences. No referee should rush into danger of losing control by punishing any trifling matters.

Foul throw-ins are generally trifling. What should be our primary concern is having the throw-in taken from the proper place, within one yard/meter of the point where the ball left the field. A throw-in is simply a way of putting the ball back into play quickly and efficiently.

Finally, please remember that such matters should be covered in the pregame conference between the referee and the other assigned officials.…